Aberdeen's quest for the SAL championship comes up a few runs short

ABERDEEN, Md. – After they had scored 13 runs on 13 hits Tuesday night in a huge win, High-A Aberdeen loaded the bases in the last of the first last night. It looked like they might pick up where they left off the previous game.

But the IronBirds would leave the bases loaded. A big chance ended with no runs. We didn’t know it then, but that would be their best scoring chance of the night as they lost 4-0 to Bowling Green. The Hot Rods won the South Atlantic League championship series in front of 1,548 at Ripken Stadium.

They held Aberdeen to four hits in the shutout win in the third and deciding game of the SAL championship. After they failed to cash in on the early chance, Aberdeen got just one runner to third base, and that was Max Wagner after a two-out triple in the sixth.

And the IronBirds got a tough break on the mound. Right-hander Peter Van Loon was pitching a gem, a one-hitter through four innings on 45 pitches. Then he was out of the game due a blister.

“He developed an issue with his hand, and that was the reason we had to yank him. He was pitching great,” said Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado. “Trust me, we were going to keep him out there a little longer. But we’re not going to put a guy out there and have that finger be an issue or impact his offseason. He was outstanding as he was for us all year. Phenomenal job today.”

Bowling Green took the lead 1-0 in the fifth when a bases-loaded balk was called on reliever Kade Strowd.

“The clock was running down and I think Strowd just saw the clock and kind of rushed into it. It was the right call. Just a tough situation in that spot,” said Mercado.

The early missed chance and the balk call had Aberdeen down 1-0 until Bowling Green put this game away with three runs in the seventh.

“It was tough,” added Mercado. “We had some opportunities early on. They had some great pitchers that threw really well, and you have to give credit to those guys. They kept us off balance. But a great learning experience for our guys. We have a lot of young guys that just got here and got the experience of playoff baseball.

“At the end of the day, it’s about player development and those guys getting better. But getting experience in high-pressure situations, those opportunities will hopefully one day help them prepare to play at Camden Yards.”

So after going 78-54 in the regular season and 3-3 in the postseason, Aberdeen comes up a win short of producing its first-ever league championship since becoming an O’s affiliate in 2002. Double-A Bowie in 2015 remains the last O’s farm team to win a league title.

Before his players dispersed into their offseason, what was Mercado’s message to his clubhouse?

“I said it all year. Elite teams have elite work ethic the way they prepare every day, and are elite teammates," he said. "Those things embody what we were about all season with a lot of different faces that came through here. Told our guys to keep working hard and don’t go to spring training just to get ready, no it’s to prove you belong and you are fighting for a spot. Be ready when you arrive to compete.”

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias attended the game and spoke to the team after the loss. Also among several of the Baltimore front office on hand were director of player development Matt Blood and Kent Qualls, the O’s director of minor league operations.

Mercado was a first-year pro manager who took his team within one win of a championship.

“Being my first year in professional baseball, it was an honor and a privilege to be their manager," he said. "I think with the staff here, we all kind of grew together and became great friends. The culture that was created here was outstanding. That was due to the staff and all the players here.”


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